Engineering systems in manufacturing, industrial buildings: Codes and standards

Manufacturing and industrial facilities have some unusual engineering requirements, especially air handling, power needs, and fire/life safety systems. Take a look at key codes and standards engineers must adhere to.


Jonathan Eisenberg, PE, Associate Manager, Rolf Jensen & Associates Inc., Boston. Courtesy: Rolf Jensen & AssociatesBrian P. Martin, PE, PDX Electrical Discipline Manager, CH2M Hill, Portland, Ore. Courtesy: CH2M HillPeter Pobjoy, PE, LEED AP, Chief Design Officer, Southland Industries, Los Angeles. Courtesy: Southland IndustriesPeter Zak, PE, Principal, GRAEF USA, Milwaukee. Courtesy: GRAEF USA


Jonathan Eisenberg, PE, Associate Manager, Rolf Jensen & Associates Inc., Boston

Brian P. Martin, PE, PDX Electrical Discipline Manager, CH2M Hill, Portland, Ore.

Peter Pobjoy, PE, LEED AP, Chief Design Officer, Southland Industries, Los Angeles

Peter Zak, PE, Principal, GRAEF USA, Milwaukee  

CSE: What codes, standards, or guidelines do you use most as you work on these facilities? 

Zak: They are IBC, ANSI, NFPA, NEC, and OSHA. 

Eisenberg: The International Building Code and International Fire Code (IBC and IFC) are staples for our work, as well as the NFPA codes and standards. In addition, we regularly examine the underwriting requirements for industrial facilities, such as the FM Global datasheets. These requirements frequently contain loss history and very useful recommendations that we can apply to unique industrial/chemical processing and storage challenges. 

Martin: We typically consult the IBC along with the local and state modifications, the NFPA 70: National Electrical Code, NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, NFPA 101: Life Safety Code, NFPA 110: Standard for Emergency and Standby Power Systems, the Telecommunications Industry Assn. (TIA)/EIA-568 Standards, and many different IEEE standards. The difficult issue can be determining when some of these standards have been pulled in to either state or local codes and are now enforceable by the AHJ. 

Pobjoy: The most used include:

  • NFPA standards are probably the broadest, covering mechanical ventilation, fuel systems, and fire protection amongst others.
  • OSHA for safety—although most manufacturing/industrial facility owners have hygienists, safety, and environmental staff that provide their own regulations in addition to the industry codes and standards.
  • ASME standards for mechanical and industrial piping.
  • EPA environmental regulations.
  • Federal, state, and local energy codes where applicable. 

CSE: Which code/standard proves to be most challenging in such facilities? 

Eisenberg: In jurisdictions that use the IBC as the applicable building code, and NFPA 1: Fire Code as the fire code, we need to meet together with both the building and fire officials to work out an equitable solution to any conflicting code requirements. On the state level, these types of discussions can end up being an iterative process. We apply the most restrictive code requirements, but often more clarity is needed. Part of our job is to inform our clients of the conflicting language and then present a recommended solution to the local officials. 

Martin: The most difficult standard to meet has been the National Electrical Code, specifically Article 700/701 and its interrelation with NFPA 110. In a large facility, it is very difficult to meet the selectivity requirements of Article 700/701, especially if it is an existing facility. Another example is meeting the 10-sec requirement for Article 700 loads; this is very difficult to do if you are paralleling generator sets. Finally, some states are interpreting NFPA 110 as requiring 96 hours of fuel storage for emergency generators in high seismic areas. This can result in a very large amount of fuel being stored on-site, with corresponding fuel polishing, unloading facilities, and spill containment. 

Pobjoy: The NFPA standards are sometimes in conflict with best practices related to the process in the building. 

Zak: NFPA defines general guidelines but nothing process specific; in many cases we have to rely on the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). 

CSE: Do you find codes affecting manufacturing or industrial facilities to be more or less taxing than those impacting work on other structures? 

Martin: Code impacts are there no matter what type of building you are designing; the impacts just differ. For industrial facilities, many of these codes do not scale well or have an obvious practical and affordable solution. Many codes are written around smaller scale industrial or light commercial buildings. An apt example is the electrical service sizing requirements of the NEC. For a large industrial facility, they simply are not practical and really don’t align with typical practice or IEEE 141. If you calculate the service size for a large facility as prescribed be the NEC, the serving utility will not provide that size of service. The code analysis is very time-consuming for an industrial facility, especially if hazardous occupancies are involved. A large amount of effort is expended determining the process chemistries and the storage volumes. This analysis can have a dramatic impact on the entire building layout, construction materials, and ultimately the cost to construct. 

Pobjoy: Yes, mainly in areas related to fire and life safety where the processes in the building are more hazardous. Industrial facilities that use or store toxic chemicals, for example, require a rigorous code review with the required design to meet the safety requirements and protocols. 

Eisenberg: In most cases, large industrial/chemical facility owners and operators have internal fire protection requirements that meet or exceed local code requirements. However, there are situations where a facility was designed and originally started up long before the current codes were written. In these instances, we work with the facility staff to develop a phased implementation plan. The goal is to fix the fire protection and code compliance issues in a manner that fits the relative hazard risks, and allows the facility to operate accordingly.

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